Kingsport, Sullivan County school boards to discuss facilities

Rick Wagner • Nov 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A special committee early next year may recommend how to best utilize Kingsport and Sullivan County school facilities as the city annexes into its urban growth boundary.

The city and county school boards will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ross N. Robinson Middle School in Kingsport, and at that meeting they may finalize plans and a deadline for the committee.

It marks the second joint meeting of the school boards this year.

Sullivan County Director of Schools Jack Barnes and Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Ron Smith said the plan is for the two boards to develop and adopt “guiding principles” for the committee to consider in recommending an overall facilities agreement.

“This is a beginning,” Barnes said Friday. “None of these guiding principles have been developed yet.”

Kingsport Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller told the Kingsport Board of Education at its meeting Thursday night that the committee then would gather data and report back to the two school boards in January.

A Friday news release from the school system said the meeting is part of the process “that will outline how to best utilize Sullivan County and Kingsport City school facilities affected by the Kingsport urban growth boundary.”

David McClaskey is to facilitate the meeting, which is open to the public but will have no public comment.

“They’re calling it a work group. Some of these things may change Tuesday night,” said Kingsport BOE President Susan Lodal, who met with Barnes and Kitzmiller about the joint meeting.

Team Charter — a five-member committee or working group that is not to include any school board members — is to have staff representatives in instruction from the city and county systems, staff members from both systems focusing on facilities, and an outside member, Smith said.

The committee tentatively is slated to present its recommendations at a joint meeting Jan. 19, Smith said. Lodal said that should be enough time, accounting for the holidays.

At the first joint meeting of the school boards, hosted in Blountville by the county BOE, the two sides discussed projections for decreased enrollment in the county system and increased enrollment in the city system, leading to a shortage of city school space and an overabundance of county school space.

The county’s enrollment projections, based on a County Commission-funded study by the Knoxville Public Housing Authority, already were down because of an aging population not having as many children and accounting for annexation.

But Kingsport officials said the city plans to annex most if not all of the urban growth boundary identified in a 2001 countywide agreement required by Public Chapter 1101 of 1998.

Among issues of contention are an agreement that the city can take over a county school once enrollment reaches 50 percent plus one of city students.

However, some schools — including Sullivan South and North high schools projected to fall to around the 400-student mark if current county enrollment and annexation trends continue — were funded with rural bonds funded only by property tax payers in the non-city areas of the county at the time the bonds were issued in the 1970s.

Further muddying the waters is that North was built and opened inside the city limits in 1980 and thus was not annexed.

The county allows students annexed after April 2006 to continue attending their old county school zone, and city students in the old Lynn View High School zone can stay in the county system.

Meanwhile, the city allows students in select areas of Lynn Garden to attend the two city elementary schools it took over there tuition free.

On a parallel track with the joint BOE meetings and special committee, the county BOE will look at closing Akard Elementary School as a cost-saving measure to help repay $15.4 million in federal economic stimulus bonds in the Qualified School Construction Bond program.

After the $15.4 million project, to renovate and enlarge Ketron Intermediate School, Gravely, Kingsley and possibly Brookside elementary schools are to close, with Ketron to absorb those students.

Barnes said Akard’s future has little if anything to do with the Kingsport urban growth boundary and thus the special BOE committee’s work.

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